In what can be interpreted as either a great strength or a debilitating weakness, the football team had its most intense week of practice during its bye week. After losing 56-7 against Florida State Saturday Sept. 27, the Blue Devils split their practice time in their off week between fundamentals and preparation for the Maryland matchup this Saturday. Drills went as scheduled last Tuesday and Wednesday, but the team practiced at 6 a.m. Thursday before enjoying a weekend without either practice or a game.
Perhaps letting out the aggression produced from the humiliating 56-7 loss to Florida State, many scuffles broke out during the week of intense drilling. Head coach Carl Franks tried to downplay the negatives of the fights.
"There's competitive people out there competing with each other....sometimes tempers flare up," Franks said.
Linebacker Ryan Fowler saw the altercations as good things.
"We knew we had to do something different...so basically we started fights," Fowler said. "It brings out enthusiasm. It makes people play harder. I think one [fight] got most of the team involved.
Fowler said there were no hard feelings after the numerous fights ended.
"Whatever we do on the field stays on the field," he said. "I think everyone understands that once it's over, it's over. In the locker room we joke around about it."
Fowler also admitted that he was the catalyst of some of the fights.
"I may have started one or two," he said.
During the drill "Oklahoma," Fowler decided to fire-up a teammate by calling him out in front of the team, and before he knew it the two were in a fistfight.
"Soon after that it was an all-out brawl [with the whole team involved]," Fowler said. "It was pretty cool. I didn't get to see most of it because I was on the ground, but we watched it on film."
Fowler said the team jokes about the brawl now with the unnamed player he called out occasionally jumping out at the 6-foot-4 Florida native saying, "Watch-it!" when the two see each other on campus.
Fowler went on to say that the bye week of practice was the most productive for the team since the season began. With seven games remaining in what has so far been a disappointing season, both Franks and Fowler said there was a renewed sense of urgency on the field, especially among the seniors.
"There's only seven games left in the season, and the [seniors] are the ones who are going to have to set the tone," Franks said. "They're the ones that have to show the leadership. This is it for a lot of those guys."
Fowler shadowed his coach's comments.
"We've got seven games left, and we're not going to be happy unless we go to a bowl game," Fowler said. "There's definitely [a new] sense of urgency."
The team also iterated its concern for the game against Maryland this week. While Duke is in the midst of a 27-game ACC losing streak, the Blue Devils have been especially bad against the Terrapins, losing 45-12 a year ago and 59-17 in 2001.
"They are very good," Franks said. "They have shut us down the last two years. We had trouble scoring points on them, we've had trouble stopping them."
Franks also expressed his concern for stopping Maryland's red-zone offense--which ranks first in the ACC-- and kickoff returns. Last season the Terrapins' punt returner Steve Suter was named to several All-American teams, but so far in 2003 he has been slowed by injuries. Suter's backup, Jo Jo Walker, has played arguably better than his injured teammate this season, averaging 13.6 yards per punt return and 22.5 yards per kick return.
Franks had misgivings, however, about his own special teams unit.
Dismayed at kicker Brent Garber's wretched 42.9 percent field goal conversion rate, Franks said he might discontinue attempting the three-point tries.
"Either we've got to quit trying field goals, or we've got to start making some," Franks said. "Everytime we miss one I think 'why did I do that.' If we keep missing them we've got to have better odds of making it on fourth and 16."
In analyzing Duke's chances even without a great kicking game, Fowler said he feels that if Maryland runs well against Duke it will be a long day for the Blue Devils. The Duke defense is designed to stop the run, and if the Blue Devil ground defense breaks down, stopping the passing game becomes all but impossible.
"If we shut down their run, which they do very effectively, it's going to be a very tough game for them," Fowler said.
Franks also said he thinks fall break will be good for the players.
"The players will have a little bit more time to study and get ready to play the next game," he said. "We'll adjust some things with our schedule. We still have to have time for practices and scouting reports. It comes at a good time. Maybe they'll concentrate on football."
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